Renowned journalists talk presidential election


Michelle DeShon

P.J. O’Rourke (left), John Greene (middle), and Carl Bernstein (right) talk politics, news and candidates at E.J. Thomas Hall last Thursday.

By Zaina Salem, Editor-in-Chief

Through witty humor and political commentary, famed journalists Carl Bernstein and P.J. O’Rourke joined forces last Thursday to address political issues facing America today. The best-selling authors spoke in front of a large crowd at E.J. Thomas Hall as part of the 2016 John S. Knight Lectureship.

The program opened with introductions from each before moving to a moderated discussion lead by John Green, director of the Ray Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.

Bernstein — whose investigative reporting in 1972 broke the Nixon Watergate scandal — set the tone of the evening by commenting on the candidates as well as the political process as he sees it.

He described Donald Trump as a “neo-fascist demagogue” who is composed of racist and bigoted appeal, and criticized the media for giving him more free airtime on television than all the other candidates combined.

In comparing the two democratic candidates, Bernstein noted that Clinton’s “difficult relationship with the truth” and the people’s distrust is a solid reason Bernie Sanders outpolls her. Bernstein, having written a best-selling biography of Clinton in 2008, nonetheless described her as a woman committed to family, faith, and public service.

Bernstein said that it is easy to blame Washington for the country’s problems, but it is a two-way street in America.

“When it comes to news and information, rather than being open to the best obtainable version of the truth — which is what good journalism and reporting is — increasingly, unlike the time of Watergate, what we’re seeing in this country is so many people who are interested in finding information to buttress their already-held political beliefs and prejudices rather than being open to a fact-based debate,” Bernstein said.

O’Rourke, the political satirist, took the stage next.

“What a horrible election,” O’Rourke began. “Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, Clinton, Sanders, and Trump — that is not a list of presidential candidates, that’s the worst law firm in the world. That is a law firm that couldn’t get Caitlin Jenner off on a charge of Bruce Jenner identity theft.”

O’Rourke didn’t hold back with his cutting criticism of the candidates:

“Ted [Cruz], stop the anti-abortion rants,” said O’Rourke. “I have got two teenage daughters. If abortion laws need any tweaking it’s this: The woman gets to decide what to do with the baby and I get to decide what to do with the boyfriend.”

“And then Hillary. Hillary came up against Bernie Sanders, the screwy-kablooey commander of the Vermont Cong. Bernie said he wants to make America more like Europe. Great idea, because Europe has had a swell track record.”

“On the upside, Hillary is familiar with the White House. She does know where the extra toilet paper is stored…where the spare key to the new missile launch briefcase is located.”

“Cruz…stop with the anti-immigrant stuff. I’m 68, what am I supposed to do, raise my own children?”

“Then of course, if rabbits get pulled out of a hat, there’s your governor,” O’Rourke said, referring to John Kasich.

O’Rourke said the GOP has no time for competent, experienced politicians.

“And that leaves us with Donald Trump.”

The end of the program was opened to the audience to ask questions. Guests could also get their books signed by the two authors at the end of the night.

Bernstein is best known for breaking the Watergate story with fellow journalist Bob Woodward in the early 1970s, which lead to the resignation of President Richard Nixon and set standards for investigative reporting. Currently, Bernstein appears on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” is a contributing editor of Vanity Fair Magazine, and has been an on-air political analyst for CNN.

O’Rourke is an Ohio native who has been labeled “the funniest writer in America” by both TIME and The Wall Street Journal. He has written 16 best-selling books, including “Thrown Under the Omnibus,” which was released in November 2015. O’Rourke takes a comedic twist on covering current events and writes a weekly column at The Daily Beast and is also a contributing editor at The Weekly Standard.

The John S. Knight Lectureship was established in 1991 by the James L. Knight Foundation to bring nationally and internationally-known writers, politicians, and other figures to Akron.